If there is a technology that could significantly improve a large population’s lives, should it be condemned for the possible negative uses that it could also be used for?
In the news this week was the announcement of a new gene editing technology that could allow scientists to cut and paste genes- with the positive effect of being able to fix most disease causing genetic variations.
For a family like ours, with our daughter having sickle cell, on the surface, this kind of research is exciting and something to celebrate.
But as I read the article, I was struck by the end of the article, which brought up the ethical concerns over these DIY — DNA modifications.
Philosophers and ethics professors love these kind of questions, and I found myself wondering what Chidi would say about this one. We are finally on the path towards fixing the un-fixable- the problems born into our bodies, and yet behind every positive there are the dark negatives lurking behind it.
If the research continues, and is able to make a new utopia of sorts that no one has to fear genetic diseases for themselves or their offspring, these researchers will be celebrated, and go down in history with the people who discovered penicillin.
But if they reach that pinnacle, and it turns out that people twist this new gene editing into something resembling Hitler’s attempts to create the perfect race, and start doing plastic surgery to unborn children’s genes, then this research could become infamous. It would be looked at as the point that our society as we knew it became something from a science fiction novel.
See, I can already see where the problem lies- if parents are allowed to edit out the diseases, then why not edit other sections as well, like one that would make their child short. Taller people earn more money, are more likely to be voted for, and are more likely to be judged attractive. So, you could argue that it was to make your child’s future better if you also were able to edit the gene for height. This starts the slippery slope into what other physical features might be edited, and would it really be so bad if parents decided on the eye color of their child?
There would have to be courts that decide where to draw the line on what genes could be cut or not cut. It would also become a society problem as well, figuring that it is likely to be an expensive procedure- the wealthy would definitely have their children’s gene’s edited to be the best they could be, while the poor would be left with whatever genes they were born with. As these kids grow up, having your genes edited would likely become a status symbol as well, possibly affecting future job searches, college admission etc.
Yet, is the fear of the dark side of gene editing so strong and pervasive that it would stomp on the hope of a cure for genetic diseases? The only way to fix a problem for good is to go to the root of it — and the root of a genetic illness is in the genes. It stands to reason that the only fix possible for these over 6,000 genetic diseases out there is in cutting out the malicious genes that are causing them.
In all honesty, I don’t know the answer. For my daughter, and for the millions, if not billions of people who live with genetic diseases, I hope desperately for a cure. Both for her, and for her kids, that they might not have to deal with the same struggles that she has dealt with.
At the same time, I also fear a world in which the biological process of having a child becomes something to tamper with, because if history proves anything, it will likely become a reality at the same time that the hope of the genetic disorders becomes possible.
What do you think? And what would Chidi say about it?